Chief Rabbi Levi Levy
February 18, 2017
Beth Elohim Hebrew Congregation 2-5 PM
189-31 Linden Blvd. Saint Albans, NY 11412 (718) 712-4646
Beth Elohim Choir
Tree of Life Inductions
Testimonials / Reception
Keynote speaker: Rabbi Eliyahu Yehudah
Biography of Chief Rabbi Levy
Biography of Chief Rabbi Levi Ben Levy
Rabbi Sholomo Ben Levy
Chief Rabbi Levi Ben Levy was one of the most dynamic black rabbis in America. He provided vital leadership for his people during the second half of the twentieth century as a teacher, speaker, community-organizer, founder of synagogues, and builder of institutions. Together with his many colleagues, he provided continuity with the past by preserving the work and memory of his teacher and our founder, Chief Rabbi W. A. Matthew. By combining vision with action, Chief Rabbi Levy helped to define who we were as a people and greatly influenced the direction of our progress. His accomplishments completed part of our foundation. Therefore, an understanding of his life is necessary to anyone who wants to know and appreciate our history.
This great leader was born on February 18, 1935 to a God-fearing family in Linden, North Carolina. It was there that he met and married his childhood sweetheart Deborah Byrd. In 1950, he came to New York City. After managing a restaurant and attempting a small business, the young Rabbi Levy enrolled at City College in 1957. He took courses at night while working for the Long Island Railroad to support his growing family. At this point, however, the hand of fate altered his path when his friend and coworker, Mr. Arnold Manot, invited him to attend the Commandment Keepers Congregation in Harlem, New York. It was there that he met the person who had the most profound affect on his life, Chief Rabbi Matthew. First, Rabbi Levy became a member of the congregation, then he was invited to joins its lodge called “The Royal Order of Ethiopian Hebrews Sons and Daughters of Culture.” After completing his Hebrew studies, his teachers and the mothers of the congregation, encouraged him to enter the Ethiopian Hebrew Rabbinical College in 1960. Through much hard work, sacrifices, and challenges he graduated six years later and was ordained by Chief Rabbi Matthew with great public acclaim in 1967.
Immediately upon graduation and ordination, Rabbi Levy knew that he was destined to do great things. He was trained and equipped with the truth to awaken the “lost House of Israel.” With Chief Rabbi Matthew’s blessing, Rabbi Levy started his first congregation, which he called Beth Shalom, in the living room of his Queens apartment with only eight members. For the first few years, as increasing numbers of people wanted to worship with them, they rented halls at various locations before acquiring their first building at 609 Marcy Avenue in Brooklyn, N.Y. In 1968, Rabbi Levy negotiated an arrangement with the Young Israel of Williamsburg that allowed him to move his congregation into the present home of Beth Shalom E. H. Congregation at 730 Willoughby Avenue.
In 1971, Rabbi Levy together with Rabbi Yisrael, Rabbi Yahonatan, Rabbi Woods, and Rabbi Paris—all students of Chief Rabbi Matthew—set out to revive their alma mater, the Ethiopian Hebrew Rabbinical College that was established in 1925. They expanded the curriculum and renamed their college The Israelite Rabbinical Academy. As other rabbis joined their ranks, and eager, dedicated men enrolled as students, a unified organizational body emerged which became the International Israelite Board of Rabbis. Four years after the death of Chief Rabbi Matthew in 1973, the rabbis of the International Israelite Board of Rabbis elected Rabbi Levy to be the next “Chief Rabbi.”
In 1983, Chief Rabbi Levy founded his second synagogue, Beth Elohim Hebrew Congregation, in Queens New York. In 1988, he installed his eldest son, Rabbi Sholomo Levy as the Spiritual Leader of the Congregation. Throughout the 1990s, Chief Rabbi Levy provided counsel and direction to those who sought his wisdom from his retirement home in North Carolina.
Amazingly, Chief Rabbi Levy managed to enjoy a full and wholesome family life despite his endless commitments and obligations. He and his wife, Deborah, were partners in love and life. Their marriage of over forty-six years produced six children: Deborah, Yehudith, Tamar, Zipporah, Sholomo, and Benyamin. At the time of his passing, he had nine grandchildren and many nieces, nephews, and God-children.
Chief Rabbi Levy gave honor to God and distinguished himself by founding two thriving congregations, Beth Shalom and Beth Elohim, an educational institution in the Israelite Rabbinical Academy that has produced most of the black rabbis in America, a unified leadership organization in the International Israelite Board of Rabbis, and gave us a quality publication in the The Hakol newsletter, and the first Israelite presence on the Internet. During his life, he received dozens of awards, plaques, and citations. He ran a half-hour radio program on radio station WWRL, he appeared on television programs such as “Black Pride,” and “Good Morning America” and he spoke to audiences internationally. For all these accomplishments and more, Chief Rabbi Levy is remembered as one of our greatest rabbis.